Location, location, location

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Do you know how your location information is used?  A recent survey commissioned by security company, Webroot, asked 1,645 social network users in the U.S. and UK who own location-enabled mobile devices about their use of location-based tools and services.  The survey found that 39 percent of respondents reported using geo-location on their mobile devices and more than half (55 percent) of those users are worried about their loss of privacy. 

A few notable concerns over security and privacy: 49 percent of women (versus 32 percent of men) were highly concerned about letting a would-be stalker know where they are and nearly half (45 percent) are very concerned about letting potential burglars know when they’re away from home (a very real risk outlined nicely by Pleaserobme.com)

The growing popularity of geo-location tools and services (including offerings by industry giants such as Twitter, Apple, Facebook and Google) means that location information is being collected on a colossal scale and the real and potential uses for this information are just starting to work themselves out - from iPhone photos tagged with GPS coordinates to location-based gaming platforms such as Scvngr that enable mobile users to create their own location-based games.

This increase in the collection and use of location information can also pose unique risks for users.  The survey summary notes that a surprising number of respondents engaged in behaviors such as sharing location information with people other than friends that could put them, and their private information, at risk.  A blogger recently wrote about her experience with location sharing gone wrong and Foursquare was recently blasted for unintentional data leakage via their popular location-based service. 

As we note in our recent submission to Industry Canada’s Digital Economy Consultation, good privacy practices can support innovation by reinforcing confidence in users that they have the right to control their personal information and that the technology they use is secure.  With location information, the usual privacy concerns abound and with each cool, new service that hits the market. How to communicate these risks to consumers is something that occupies a great deal of our time.  Dealing with the privacy concerns of location information during the design phase for new services would help businesses avoid expensive (both financial and reputational) after-the-fact privacy fixes and might even provide those privacy-friendly businesses with a significant competitive advantage

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